Mabel Wright

Mavis de Vere Cole


Mabel Winifred Mary Wright was born 29th Dec 1908 in Woolwich one of five children to Samuel Charter Wright and his wife Florence Jane (Lovelock Smith).

Sam Wright in 1909

  • ‘Grocer and Draper’
  • Royal Flying Corps
  • Horse and cart driver
  • feckless

Mavis with her brother Trukki (Leslie John C Wright)


By 1911 the family were in Mill Cottage, Mill Way in Needingworth.

They moved to Mafeking House (10 High Street), owned by the grandfather, and then in 1923 moved to a Council House at 1 Ramsay Road, St Ives

Life at the Mill House

We lived at what must have been at one time the miller’s cottage, a quaint place, with dug-out floor levels; one stepped down on entering the front door (unfortunately the only door) to the establishment, which consisted of three identical rooms, the kitchen being in the centre with a bedroom either side. From the kitchen, stepping down again, was a sort of passage leading the whole length of and behind the three rooms, in which there was the old-fashioned “copper” for boiling clothes and where coal was kept. There was one window at the far end of the passage.

Trukki and Mabel enlarged a hole in the upper portion and crawled through into a dream playground of ropes and trapdoors dominated by the heady smell of mouldering flour where great cogwheels had once turned mill-stones to grind the corn; a place of squeaks and scuffles and the sudden whirr of wings. ‘Two of the sails blew off in a gale,’ said Trukki. ‘We were astonished at their size. At least one foot square at their thickest part. Those two sails supplied us with firewood for a couple of years.

There is now nothing left of the mill except its foundations which form a hump, planted with rose-bushes, in front of a modernised cottage. The old mill cottage is only recognisable by virtue of the passage still running the whole length behind. Far removed from the damp dug-out of former days-but what child would have improved on it as it was? And what grown-up when the rent was only two shillings a week?

The windmill stood in the midst of orchards: apples and plums in alternate rows, gooseberries and currant bushes here and there with other rows of strawberries, raspberries and asparagus. The Wright children helped themselves. During the war, with father away, they literally lived off the land. When old enough they earned a few pennies by picking fruit for a contractor who paid so much a basket. Mabel put her own name on some of the skeps so as to cut out the middle-man.

Growing up

She was an angelic little thing, not notably naughty on her own account, but always ready to follow Trukki’s lead. He was a proper young country rascal, out poaching and trapping – ‘trespassing in search of conies’ ran the official charge. He was at loggerheads with the local police and in due course appeared in Court, to his strict mother’s horror. A subsequent report in the Huntingdon Post described him as ‘The Village Tyrant’. His traps were confiscated, but of course that didn’t stop him for long.

Trukki, and therefore Mabel, hung around old Tom Metcalfe of Holywell, whenever they could. Old Tom was like a guardian spirit of the Ouse. He built his own boats and wove his own traps. He cut osiers, peeled the bark, laid it in the sun to dry and split it, then wove his traps which he baited with worms and dropped in the rushes. Before leaving an eel trap he or his young assistants would tie nearby rushes in a knot to make the place easy to recognise later.

When old enough to ride a bicycle Trukki ‘graduated’ from Old Tom and the Ferryboat Inn to the Pike and Eel at Overcoat. Here Mabel and he would man the ‘dradbridge’, which wasn’t something medieval to be let down over a moat but was a floating pontoon, weighing upwards of twenty tons, which used to be pulled backwards and forwards across the Ouse by a chain secured at either end. The owner of the drawbridge was also the proprietor of the Pike and Eel. Those who wanted to be hauled across had first to haul him out from behind the bar. That was all very well when he had the monopoly, but when the motor car came in it made the saving of a mile or two to St Ives less important.

So that was the end of the drawbridge.

Mavis aged 14

First jobs

By 1929
(aged 21)
she had met Augustus John
(30 years older than her)
and he had sketched her
In 1931 Mavis married William Horace de Vere Cole, who was 26 years her senior
(This sketch by Augustus John was done 5 years earlier)
An Abyssinian Virginia Woolf in 1910 Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936) was a “British eccentric prankster”

In 1934 (aged 26)

Tristan Hilarius John de Vere Cole


born 16 Mar 1935
registered in Redruth, Cornwall

(Mavis always felt she was part gipsy)

In Cornwall

Mavis with Ray Addington Adam’s car
A picnic in France in 1938 with Augustus and Dodo John and their daughter Vivienne (1915-1994)
Response to a nude photo

My dear, most extraordinary, Gus,
I feel your remarks quite unjust

Mavis met Sir Mortimer Wheeler (Rikki) in 1937

They married in 1939, with Augustus John as the chief witness.
Mavis and Sir (Robert Eric) Mortimer Wheeler

Divorced in 1942 due to adultery with Clive Entwistle
Portrait of Mavis by Vivienne (Clive’s mother and world-renowned portrait photographer)


Vivienne later listed Mavis as one of the ten most beautiful women.

Around 1941
Tristan with Augustus John
Mavis 'on the land'
Mavis in the Women’s Land Army in WW2 riding ‘Tommy’

A 1943 Portrait of Mavis by Augustus John
Portrait of Mavis by Augustus John

Pathé visit Augustus John with Mavis and Tristan in 1944

A 1944 Sketch of Mavis by Augustus John

(Used as the cover of Tristan’s biography)

Potterne, Wiltshire

Mavis lived in Porch House from 1941-7 (except for a time in USA)

In 1947 she bought Pilgrim Cottage, from where
in 1954 she was removed to Holloway Prison
Mavis had enthralled the 5th Lord Vivian

From the Washington Post

In the celebrated 1954 court case Mavis was convicted for wounding and sentenced to 6 months in Holloway

Mavis with Roderic Owen (traveller and writer) in 1958

In 1964 Mavis changed her name to Maris

Here she is in 1966 with Jolly

She died in 1970